Monday, February 14, 2022

Neglected Gem: The Whole Wide World (1996)

Vincent D'Onofrio as Bob Howard in The Whole Wide World (1996).

As Bob Howard, the pulp writer who romances a small-town schoolteacher in 1930’s West Texas in The Whole Wide World, Vincent D’Onofrio gives the best performance of his career. D’Onofrio uses his thick, squarish pugilist’s looks; a walrus mustache he tries out, or an outsize Mexican hats, sits on his face with unexpected ease – absurd appendages you suddenly realize complete him. He gives Howard a physicality that’s both lumbering and exploratory: tracking through the cornfields or down a country road, he always seems to be stretching toward something, a world only he can see. That’s the heart of Bob Howard, the man who created Conan the Barbarian: he lies such a fervent life in his head, rehearsing his stories in the fields or chanting them like fearful verse, bent over his typewriter, that he disappears into it. Conan is Bob’s romantic version of himself, part monster, part seducer. When his ailing mother (Ann Wedgeworth) interrupts him to call him to the phone, she has to shout to be heard above the din of his imagination. For this bold, possessed man, who brawls against the world every time he marks out a new tale, and whose braggadocio and non-conformity mask deep-flowing misanthropy and despair, D’Onofrio seems to invent his own style – a kind of homegrown pulp-theatrical machismo. It’s as if he’d crossed the stylized all-American forthrightness of John Wayne with the romantic sweep and tormented soul credited to nineteenth-century actors like Edmund Kean and Edwin Booth.